Japanese Theater

Japanese theater, domestic and imported forms of performance in Japan since the 8th century AD (pictorial and written documents or transmission of gestures, choreography, music of the courtly arts): jugglers’ arts, sacred dances, courtly ceremonial theater.

As in the rest of the East Asian region (e.g. China), no pure spoken theater developed in Japan until modern times; all traditional genres combine music, dance and vocal performance (lyrical narration). They are conservative, maintain the strict tradition of gesture repertoire and vocal techniques (theoretically presented in medieval treatises), emphasize the (magical) power of words and gestures and tend towards symbolic, stylized representation.

Beginnings: The ritual dance theater Bugaku came from China to Japan in the 8th century and preserves elements of Central Asian court culture of antiquity: a variety of masks (some with continental or Indian features); ceremonial, symmetrical dances in pairs and groups of four; Wind and percussion instruments of Chinese origin for the accompanying music Gagaku, which is still played at the imperial court to this day.

The Nō Theater: The Nō (originally Sarugaku) emerged in the 14th century from the crossroads of folk entertainment arts and sacred temple games. It was refined under court patronage (the Ashikaga shogune) and developed into a stylized lyrical dance theater (with a tendency towards monodrama). Comedy plays (Kyōgen) were performed as cheerful intermezzi between the Nō dramas: originally folk farces, antics and fouls, now an independent, stylized, increasingly popular art genre.

17th century: In the 17th century the bourgeois genres kabuki and puppetry (Bunraku, originally Ningyō-jōruri) emerged, which soon took a prominent place in the flourishing urban culture (Kyoto, Osaka, Edo). They competed for the audience’s favor and developed sophisticated performance techniques on the basis of a common dramatic repertoire (most famous author: Chikamatsu Monzaemon): the kabuki became a lavishly equipped star theater with professionalized roles, the puppet theater is still impressive today with its complex Interaction of reciter, shamisen accompaniment and puppeteer.

In the shadow of the great genres, the rakugo, a minor narrative art of solo entertainers, increasingly flourished in the cities from the 17th century, with funny-bizarre, sometimes grotesque-absurd features, which today also claims the rank of a classical art.

19th century: After the country opened up in the course of the Meij reforms (beginning in the late 1860s), confrontation with Western cultures resulted in new types of theater: The Shinpa (literally “new trend”) was based on the techniques of Kabuki pathetic melodramas with modern Japanese subjects. The Shingeki (literally “new theater”) was based on Western spoken theater, and was popular in the 1920s. at the center of a proletarian theater movement and produced an independent dramatic literature (authors: Kikuchi Kan; Kishida Kunio, * 1890, † 1954; Abe Kōbō; Mishima Yukio).

Since 1945: In the 1960s, free theater – called »Angura« based on the English term »underground« – made a name for itself with radical programs: emphasis on physicality, alternative performance spaces, involvement of the audience, etc. (Authors: Betsuyaku Minoru, * 1937, † 2020; Kara Jūrō, * 1940; Terayama Shūji, * 1935, † 1983). It was replaced by postmodern currents, which offer a broad spectrum between pop culture and radical avant-garde. Many of their representatives are also active as dramatists and directors, such as Noda Hideki (* 1955) or Hirata Oriza (* 1962). One of the most important representatives of the young Japanese theater is the playwright and director Toshiki Okada (* 1973), who explores the hidden conflicts of today’s Japanese society in his extremely reduced plays.

A special feature is the »Takarazuka« revue theater, founded in 1913, in which all roles are occupied by women and which has a large regular audience to this day.


Traditional Japanese theater, ed. v. K. Brazell (New York 1999); Half a Century of Japanese Theater, ed. v. Japan Playwright Association, 4 vols. (From the Japanese, Tokyo 2000); Kabuki plays on stage, ed. v. J. Brandon et al. Leiter, 4 vols (Honolulu, Hawaii, 2002-03).

Japanese Theater


Yokohama, Jokohama, port and industrial city in Japan, on Honshū, on the west coast of Tokyo Bay, with (2018) 3.74 million residents the second largest city in Japan.

According to areacodesexplorer, Yokohama is the administrative seat of Kanagawa Prefecture (2,416 km 2, 9.18 million residents) and seat of a Catholic bishop. Yokohama has a state university and a city university (both founded in 1949) as well as other colleges, research institutions, libraries (including the Kanagawa Library, founded in 1275), an art, silk and marine museum. The city, which is part of the Keihin industrial area, is primarily the location of machine and vehicle construction, oil refineries and the chemical industry. On the coast, land is being reclaimed for younger industrial areas. A German industrial center has existed in the Hakusan High-Tech Park since 1987. The suspension bridge swinging over the port area (Yokohama Bay Bridge, largest span 460 m, completed in 1989; viewing restaurant at a height of 54 m) is part of the motorway ring around Tokyo Bay.


The city was almost completely destroyed by the Kanto earthquake in 1923 and by air raids in 1945. The reconstruction was carried out in a modern style with numerous administrative buildings in the center. In the park Sankei-en (19 ha) you can find historical buildings from different regions of Japan, among others. a three-storey pagoda (15th century) from Kamo near Kyoto, teahouses from different eras, a thatched large family farmhouse and the villa of the Tokugawa family (originally the pavilion of the former Momoyama Castle, Fushimi). Modern buildings of international standing include the concert hall and library complex (1953/54), the Kanagawa Youth Center (1962) by K. Maekawa and the Olivetti Building by K. Tange(1970). The »Tower of the Winds«, 1986 by Itō Tōyō built, has a. Light source facade that reacts to the wind.